In 2021 the route to qualifying as a solicitor will change with the introduction of the new SQE exam. Under the new system you’ll need 4 things to qualify:
- a degree (any subject) or equivalent;
- pass stages 1 and 2 of the SQE: SQE1 focuses on legal knowledge; SQE2 on practical legal skills (SQE1 must be completed before taking SQE2);
- completed 24 months of legal work experience
- meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability requirements.
The SRA expects that most individuals will take SQE1 after completing a degree and before the start of the period of work experience (work experience gained at other times e.g. during undergraduate studies can be recognised) and SQE 2 at the end of the period of work experience.
How will the SQE affect me?
Anyone who starts a Law degree/GDL/LPC before the SQE is introduced in September 2021 should not be affected as there will be a transition period during which individuals who have already started their legal education will be able to qualify via the current route. However candidates need to bear in mind that Law firms will not want to run two separate qualification systems alongside each other and are likely to move everyone to the new (SQE) system, possibly as early as 2022.
What is the SQE?
The SQE (stages 1 and 2) will cover:
- ethics, professional conduct and regulation, including money laundering and solicitors accounts;
- wills and administration of estates;
- law of organisations;
- criminal law and evidence;
- criminal litigation;
- contract law;
- trusts and equitable wrongs;
- constitutional law and EU law (including human rights);
- legal system of England and Wales;
- civil litigation.
SQE1 will cover roughly the same content as the current undergraduate law degree (and GDL), plus the more practical elements of the LPC to ensure that qualifying solicitors meet the SRA’s legal knowledge and competence requirements. SQ1 will include:
- legal research and writing (the only practical element of stage 1);
- principles of professional conduct, public and administrative law, and the legal systems of England and Wales;
- dispute resolution in contract or tort;
- property law;
- commercial and corporate law;
- wills and the administration of estates and trusts;
- criminal law.
Assessment for SQE1 will be split into two exams, a three-hour written exam (multiple-choice questions) testing candidates’ legal knowledge and its application in practise. The second, also a written exam, focusses on legal research and writing skills. The SQE is a series of exams not a course and the SRA expects that candidates will need to prepare before taking the SQE exams. There is no rule specifying that candidates must complete a SQE-preparation course and the type of preparation will vary according to candidates’ prior legal education. It is likely to be significantly longer for those without a law degree and will probably resemble the current GDL. Both groups will need to gain legal experience to pass SQE2.
SQE2 covers the practical skills needed to be a solicitor and assesses the following five skills:
- client interviewing;
- advocacy/persuasive oral communication;
- case and matter analysis including planning negotiations;
- legal research and written advice;
- legal drafting.
Assessment for SQE2 will consist of practical assessments such as mock interviews with clients and will be assessed in two areas of law chosen (by the candidate) from the following:
- criminal practice;
- dispute resolution;
- wills and the administration of estates;
- business practice.
Qualifying Legal Experience (QLE)
The current requirement to complete two years of legal work experience will remain but it will no longer have to be with the same employer nor require trainees to work in a number of different areas. QLE can be undertaken before, during and/or after completing SQE1 and SQE2, at up to four organisations such as law firms, law centres and university pro bono clinics. There is no minimum length of time for a placement, the two year total needs to be reached within a maximum of four separate periods of QLE. The organisation providing the QLE needs to be recognised as complying with SRA rules and the placement signed off by a solicitor/compliance officer for legal practice with direct experience of the candidate’s work.
Unlike SQE1/2 the QLE is not assessed but given that SQE2 tests practical skills (and most candidates are likely to undertake the QLE prior to SQE2) it should involve candidates putting the skills they will need to pass SQE2 into practice (including client contact and applying ethical considerations to real situations).
Despite the flexibility that the new qualification system is trying to introduce law firms are not obliged to shorten the training placement (currently two years), even where a candidate has significant prior legal experience. Law firms have invested significantly in developing training programmes that meet their needs, enable trainee solicitors to gain a solid grounding in the type of work required and which prepare them for life working within a specific specialism, environment and client base. Whilst they value prior legal experience many will choose to continue to offer tailored training programmes that meet their specific needs over the traditional two year time frame.
How much will it cost?
The cost of the SQE is unknown. Tentative predictions by the SRA have suggested what the costs of taking the SQE assessment might be but there isn’t information available yet on what universities and law schools might charge for SQE1 and 2 preparation courses.
For more information on what is currently known about the SQE refer to LawCareers.net and Chambers Student. These sources are the primary ones used in the writing of this blog. The SRA is slowly releasing more information about the SQE however a lot of the details are lacking. As further information becomes available these resources will be updated.
For advice on the SQE Law students can speak to the Deputy Head of Warwick Law School, Professor Andrew Williams or the Senior Careers Consultant for the Law School, Valerie Matthews-Lane. Non-Law students interested in a Legal career who need advice on the SQE should book a careers guidance appointment.
By Valerie Matthews-Lane, July 2019